how to find vintage linens

i am a collector of way way way too many things. but there are a couple items i’ve been collecting for years and have not gotten sick of. 1. vintage glassware 2. jadeite 3. vintage table linens. all three you can still find out and about (although jadeite has become significantly harder in past years) but linens and glassware you can still find “out in the wild” (thrift stores, garage sales, etc). i thought i would share some of my secrets for finding vintage linens at a great price. (oh and how to clean them).

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it all started with an issue of country living magazine. a woman had upholstered bench cushions with vintage table clothes and had a strawberry print  one on her table. i went out to the allegan flea market and collected a few for myself. i paid between $5-$8 a piece for them because they had some stains on them. don’t let stains scare you off! i’ll get into that shortly. back to collecting. the more i collected the more i started to notice i really liked ones with fruit patterns and flowers found in michigan. i do have a few of what i call “unicorns” ones that are very rare that i’ve never seen before and do not fit into the flower or fruit category. my favorites include: a michigan travel souvenir table cloth, a lobster boil themed cloth and a doe and stag patterned cloth.

table linens are easy to collect because you can literally buy thousands (i haven’t yet) and ship them with ease or pack them into your suitcase. but where do you find them? i usually have the best luck finding them at flea markets and antique shows. 90% of them are usually between $25 and up but i never pay more than $15 (unless it’s a unicorn). the trick is to find them from booths that are more “rummage style” that don’t have them all folded up nicely on display racks. a lot of dudes will be using them to wrap up and protect their weird glassware. ask to buy their “packaging” material. i have found some great linens being used just like that. if you do find a booth that has them stacked up they’ll usually be pricy BUT if they have the “seconds” bin you can score on some great deal on ones with imperfections.
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another great source is at thrift stores. YES you can still find vintage linens at thrift stores. but you have to know where to look. sometimes they will be in the correctly labeled spot where the napkins and tablecloths actually are but usually i find the good ones either stacked with the vintage sheets (ewe) or mixed in with the towels (double ewe). but they always for some reason are mixed up these other items.

a last great source i use is craigslist. you have to find the retirement communities that are having their yard sales. good gracious i sound like a vintage textile shark. be nice to the ladies ok? but they usually always place their garage sales in the paper or as a community on craigslist and i find them all the time there.

ok so now what do you do when you get some with a few imperfections? there are a few techniques i use. (usually pending weather). if you have some that look like coffee stains or just basic food stains (these were used as table cloths after all) soak them in detergent over night in the wash, rinse on a gentle or hand wash cycle then lay out in green grass to soak up the sun. there is something about the grass and the sun that seriously takes that last little bit of brown stain out of the fabric.

i typically try to stay away from full blown oxy clean and other harsh detergents because sometimes it tends to fade the colors on the linens. but i do use the oxy clean spot treatment on the really tough ones. don’t let it soak overnight just a few hours and try to avoid getting it on the actual pattern.

if it’s winter and you really need to let these bad boys soak try letting it sit in a bath tub of dawn original and luke warm water overnight. it’s seriously amazing what dawn can do.

parting words…. no matter how good the pattern is.. if you suspect it’s blood. just no. just…..no. not even if it’s a unicorn. we’ve all been there and just… no. chances are someone was murdered on it in the 50’s and their spirit is now trapped in the fibers. you don’t want that bad voodoo in your home. just saying.

is it friday yet?

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